My 10,000 Mile Boots On The Ground Adventure……

by RockLicker61


Well OK, it was only actually 9,800 miles door to door, but unless someone from South Africa has gone searching I think I can still claim the unenvied title of Furthest-Travelled Failed Searcher.

For me this craziness started after reading a news story in March 2018. It was a day that I couldn’t be bothered doing any work, so I found myself digging around the blogs and forums and I was quickly hooked.

Within a couple of days I had the basis of my solve sorted out, then it was refined and strengthened over the next couple of weeks to what you will read today. The solve builds on the work of others to narrow down the WWWH starting point, but I’m presenting a couple of (possibly) new ideas on some lines of the poem, particularly the blaze, so hopefully you may both enjoy the story and get something useful out of it.

In its simplest interpretation this solve doesn’t rely on any information you can’t find on a good map, but a small amount of googling and a bit of geographical knowledge help firm things up. Unlike many solves people come up with, I had this one down to a fairly specific area months before I put boots on the ground. This was by necessity – I’m a New Zealander living in Perth, Western Australia, so if I was going to invest (haha!) a few thousand dollars into getting to the Rockies I couldn’t afford to be going on a hunch.

But I’d just sold my trusty old pickup so I had some play money lying around, and I have a very understanding wife! In early May I found myself setting off for the 39 hour journey to Bozeman Montana. There I rendezvoused with one of my brothers who lives in Phoenix and couldn’t say no to this sort of adventure.

So armed with a healthy dose of jet lag and a can of bear spray, this is our chase…

Begin it where warm waters halt,
And take it in the canyon down
Not too far, but too far to walk
Put in below the home of Brown

This simply follows the popular solve starting where the warm Gardiner River meets the cold Yellowstone River at Gardiner Montana, then following the Yellowstone River down to the Slip and Slide Boat Ramp near the end of Joe Brown creek.

From there it’s no place for the meek

This boat ramp is used by rafters and kayakers to access the white-water rapids in Yankee Jim Canyon – definitely no place for the meek.
A less obvious interpretation is that this canyon was a stumbling block for Joseph Meek in his early exploration of the area (though this obviously requires knowledge beyond the scope that Forrest Fenn says is necessary).

The end is ever drawing nigh

This refers to the bottom of Sphinx Creek, the first feature we come to down-stream, and there’s a few ways of looking at it:
The flowing creek is continuously ending as it reaches the river.
The word “drawing” could be used because the bottom of Sphinx Creek is in a draw (also known as a re-entrant outside of the USA), which is a steep-sided gully.

Also, it’s on the left, and numerous people have asserted that nigh is an archaic word for left, though I haven’t found any solid references for this.

There’ll be no paddle up your creek
Just heavy loads and water high

Sphinx Creek is merely a trickle, even when we visited during the melt in May, so you won’t need a paddle.

The second line defines the bottom and top of the creek as we go up it.

Heavy loads describes the bottom of the creek which crosses the Old Yellowstone Trail and where the railway line used to go.

The top of the creek is a perched lake (high water) called Yankee Jim Lake.

So we head up the creek all the way to the lake.

Fresh bear tracks of different sizes were dotted all the way up Sphinx Creek – a bit worrying for us as we’d never had to deal with bears before!

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze. Look quickly down

OK, here’s where it gets interesting.

Notice the past tense on this sentence – in my opinion you have to have already been wise and found the blaze before you get there. In this case that’s because you can’t actually see it from the lake at the top of the creek.

So to find the blaze, you need to know where to look.

Have you noticed the red magnetic declination lines on the map provided in Where Warm Waters Halt? I find them odd because they’re a bit ugly, and many versions of the map have removed them for aesthetic reasons. But what are they for? It’s not normal to have these lines on a simple schematic map like this. Magnetic declination is used when you’re using a compass bearing – the lines tell you what the correction is between true north and magnetic north is at a particular spot. The presence of the magnetic declination lines is telling me that you need to use some sort of compass reading, or at least a general bearing to some remote feature in your solve.

So what is the blaze?

If you look on a map about 6.5 miles / 11 kilometres to the south west of Yankee Jim Lake, you find Shooting Star Mountain.

Shooting stars blaze across the sky, and you have to look quickly to see them.

Forrest has mentioned that it would be possible to remove it the blaze, but not feasible. I know from experience in the mining industry that removing the top of a mountain is definitely possible, but you have to have a good reason to do so to make it feasible.

But you can’t see Shooting Star Mountain from the top of Sphinx Creek, it’s hidden by the ridge on the other side of the valley. Luckily there are high points all around Yankee Jim Lake, but for this solve, you need to be “wise” and move clockwise around the lake.

A drone photo of Yankee Jim Lake, looking roughly north west, with the high point where you can see the blaze on the left

As you reach the highest point on the south-west side, Shooting Star Mountain just peeks into view above the ridge.

Another drone photo, with the high point in the foreground and Shooting Star Mountain peeking just above the ridge, slightly left of centre of the photo

I was 99% sure I’d be able to see Shooting Star Mountain from this high point as I’d used the 3D view in Google Earth and a viewshed analysis in QGIS to verify this beforehand. Still, it was a massive relief when we reached the top and Shooting Star Mountain just came into view!

Look quickly down your quest to cease

When you’re at the top of the hill and the blaze has come into view, then look down and you see a series of rock faces below you.

But tarry scant with marvel gaze
Just take the chest and go in peace

And this is where this solve joins the long list of failures!

It was a beautiful spot, with sweeping views of the valley dotted with lakes and meadows framed by distant mountains.

The view from the solve location – a fitting spot for a final resting place

We searched all along the rock faces, covering everything up to 200 feet away from the peak (in reference to the 200 feet that Forrest says searchers have been within). There were plenty of perfect little hiding places, but alas, no chest.

One of the many chest-sized nooks in the rock faces

The original solve was a bust, but I knew that I had to get closure and I had to exhaust all options before we left Montana. So, on the second day of our trip we searched all of the rock faces between the top of the creek and high point from the first solve, thinking I may have misinterpreted how to use the blaze reference.

My brother left to go back to work the next morning, but I spent that third day searching the main peak of Sphinx Mountain, and all of the rock faces on the south west side facing the blaze. Again, I found many amazing spots with beautiful views over Yankee Jim Lake, and lots of potential hiding places, but no chest.

The view over Yankee Jim Lake during the third day of searching

Our (approximate) search coverage around Yankee Jim Lake

So I go in peace, having spent an awesome couple of days hiking in Montana with my brother. We found some amazing spots, plenty of fresh bear tracks, and walked away with a couple of deer antlers as trophies.

Our trophies adorning the rental car

It’s a common cliché in The Chase circles, but this experience gave us moments to treasure, even though we walked away empty-handed.

So as my final act of closure in this chase, I’m putting this failed solve out to the world so that you might hopefully glean some insight that helps you in your chase.

You can see my solution on a Google map by clicking HERE.

I’ll be lurking on Dal’s website, Reddit and THOR under the username RockLicker61 if you want to discuss this solve. Or drop me an email at the same username if you want to get in touch directly.

Stay safe out there, the bears are always watching you!


63 thoughts on “My 10,000 Mile Boots On The Ground Adventure……

  1. My – My – You did have a L O N G trip didn’t you? Great write-up, nice pictures, and well thought out. Sorry you did not find Indulgence, but you did find some nice treasures anyway. How about those bear tracks? Too bad you could not have made a plaster cast of them – something to remember the trip by.

    Thanks for the post – a nice adventure – JDA

    • Thanks JDA.
      Funnily enough when we saw our first ever bear tracks, our first thought wasn’t to take a plaster cast of them haha!

    • we could of shook hands we were so closei was at the smith ranch you were above in that dead forest got pics of that put in we were both way off i asume it was fun tho

  2. RockLicker61,

    WOW that’s what you call an adventure.

    Sorry you didn’t find indulgence, however you will have come away from the Rockies with treasured memories and at the same time meet up with your brother.

    Do you plan to do another search in the future?

    Ronnie the Scot

    • Hi Ronnie, nope I’m done with searching unfortunately. It’s just too expensive from this side of the world!

  3. Wow, good research and great story. We were there about the same time, except I went to Bear Trap Canyon.

  4. Seems reasonable. Wondering how far the hike was one way…also, that looks like a matched set of elk antlers to me.

    • Thanks for the correction!
      It took us maybe a couple of hours to get up there – but we were dawdling a bit. I reckon you could go there and back in 3 hours if you were on a mission.
      In hindsight, the length of the hike is the only thing about this solve that might not fit Forrest’s comments. But then again, he has said we’d be surprised when we find out where he went…

  5. How long of a hike did you have from car to your search area? It’s not clear from your write-up.


    • See the reply I made above. I reckon you could get there and back hours.

  6. Well presented, RockLicker61!
    Your adventure shared will renew interest in so many.
    Your outstanding efforts will cause genuine regrets that you didn’t find Indulgence! 🙂

    • Thanks, but no there’s no regrets! I’m happy with the solve I came up with, I managed to search the area adequately, and we had a good time doing it. Nothing to regret about that 🙂

  7. Thank you for sharing your adventures! I am sorry that you didn’t find the treasure, but glad that you and your brother got to spend some bro-time hiking in such an amazing place.
    I have always wanted to visit New Zealand. I hear it’s gorgeous!

    • Thanks Veronica. You should definitely visit NZ – it’s got all the best bits of the world squeezed into two tiny islands. Imagine driving to the Rockies, crossing a mountain pass, and finding yourself in coastal rainforest on the other side. That’s the kind of stuff you see every day when you’re traveling in NZ.

  8. You gave it a great shot RockLicker, no doubt worth the long trip. I really like your take on “drawing”.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Aaron. I can’t take credit for making that link between a geographical feature draw and the word “drawing” – I saw it on one of the websites in my research. As I mentioned above, we call it a re-entrant in my part of the world.

  9. Wow, that really is a beautiful spot and a very straightforward logical solve. Sorry you did not find it but it looks like a great adventure was had! Hey, I know you live in Australia now but have you ever seen a “Curious Hobbit” around your parts? lol.. we lost one… 🙂

  10. Thank you for sharing your adventure, RockLicker61. I’m glad you and your brother had a good time. Great photos. I concur with Jason’s comment about the antlers being elk rather than deer.

  11. That was a great solve. Not a failure at all.
    I have come to believe more in solves that involve Gardiner more than West Yellowstone. Mostly because of the plants, But also because of the features that you referred to. I just wonder if you went to places that an 80 year old man would be exhausted. I get exhausted going shopping.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful adventure.

    • It was a nice climb – nothing to strenuous, especially for a man that’s been exploring the mountains all his life.

  12. Good try #Kiwi #Outbacker ..

    Not a bad Guess (I don’t call anyone’s a “Solve” as there’s only one Solve and that’s the one that walks you to the Secreted Bronze Beauty) ..

    Looks like a beautiful spot. I’d love to visit it someday when I’m too old to really care, but Montana’s just too far for me, as far as Bronze Beauty’s involved. My distance-travelled-over-time limit to allow for 3 days of Ground Pounding (bracketed by 2 days of 24-hour non-stop driving from and to Springtown, Texas) stopped a few miles South of the Bison-Murdering Ranchers-Of-Montana Border, excluding all of Yellowstone (primarily because it’s just too obvious to be there), which, coincidentally, of course, happens to also be included — and culpable — in the Annual Great American Bison Slaughter, which I Completely Oppose and fully hold #NPS #Guilty of Criminal Endangered Species Destruction) ..

    (On a semi-related note, I’ve sent a Proposal to #Congress, #Wyoming, #SouthDakota, #Colorado, #Oklahoma and #Texas to Establish a #GreatAmericanBison and #WildMustang Natural Monument, stretching from Yellowstone NP, to the Sweetwater and North Platte Rivers (with an offshoot to the Red Desert Wild Mustangs), past Independence Rock, towards Cheyenne and Colorado, with an offshoot to the South Dakota Bison Herds, and following Hwy 287 to the Amarillo and Fort Worth Bison Herds, creating a means by which the Bison and Wild Mustangs can Naturally Roam and Mingle and Breed, with enough Land to grow to 5 or even 10 Million Animals uncontrolled by Human Intervention ..

    For a single trip I think you take the Backwoods Backpacking Birthday Cake .. but every trip I make is 1,500 miles one way (3,000 roundabout) by the time I get all my driving back and forth done for 4 or 5 days each trip and I’ve made about 27 or 28 (I stopped counting cause it was getting too expensive in my noggin to try to figure out where all my life savings was disappearing to) .. so I’m sitting at something like 81 to 84 K over 3 years [with 1 year off and a scolding by the Land Rangers for (admittedly questionable) bad boy behavior] ..

    Oh Well ..

    Broken Brad

    • Haha, thanks, that makes my financial investment look much more reasonable!
      I’m also keen to hear what the scolding was for, or do we not want to know?

    • Thanks Helena, but no I’m out of this one. I’m hoping someone else will take my vision and run with it.

  13. This was good reading. You got a lot more guts than I do, traveling all that way and being methodical when you got there. I’ve been wondering about the difference between ability to think about solves, willingness to engage in the puzzle aspect of it all, compared to having the willingness to act, to just get out there after having settled on an idea and to persevere in examining completely an idea.

    You did all of us a favor. You had an idea and went over it well. Probably a lot of people are thinking of you as a good man and if having thought about your idea in the past themselves are thinking that you went over it pretty well so it’s probably not the place. I’ve been wondering about the Tower Falls area down the river a piece from where you made your solve. I’d like to know if somebody’s gone over that place. I think probably they have, but it would be nice to get a read up as nice as yours about that place, with lots of pictures. Tower Falls seems to be sort of a fit which might not be too difficult to check out. I don’t think it’s the place, but on the other hand it’s on my mind.

    • Thanks Daniel. Yes I had to be very methodical. I had one shot at this, so I wasn’t going to commit until I had a very specific spot to search.
      Tower Falls? The only one I can see is in Yellowstone, and I reckon FF is too smart to put it in a national park.

    • Rocklicker: very wise. Hiding it within YNP would have added tremendous complications for the finder that Forrest is smart enough to have anticipated. Anyone who had 15 years to “think of everything” would have had National Park issues foremost in his mind.

      • Forrest had the spot in mind and knew where he want to hide it. He hid it based on the spot that he liked not based on legalities. The fact that he spend time in money on a lawyer to know if he could hide there actually makes me lean toward a National Park. Yes it is a little tougher legally for the finder but if it can be done, even with some difficulty, then why not? If the finder is smart enough to find it the they will probably smart enough to do what it takes legally to keep it IMO.

          • I’m a little confused by that. I mean all he did was to hide the chest in some relatively remote area. Anyone finding it could just take it away from there, the same way. The only legal thing would be to make sure, if someone taking the treasure, reports it to him, Fenn in turn could just turn over or have the new owner of the chest sign the document verifying who the new owner is. Or something, I have no idea what all the legalities are involved. It’s probably easier for the finder, if they can get away with the chest undetected, to then dispose of the treasure however they wish.

  14. Rocklicker61 –

    This is a a wonderful straight forward traditional solve. Many chasers have begun their search right where you did. Many searchers have really complicated solves that put them in the same place.

    It is possible that this is the area to look! I have expressed before the idea that this chase may take place between the 45th and 46th parallel. As other have said this is a nice write up. Thank you for posting it!

    I hope you enjoyed your brief visit to the American West.

    Safe Travels!

  15. One of the best solves posted on here. As I read, I was half expecting you to say that you found it. Thanks for sharing your logic so selflessly!

  16. This sounds way too complex an interpretation of a mystery poem that was intended to be much more obvious once one discovers what the clues mean. I suspect they are all landmarks, not based on anything else. You have to figure out what the first clue is, then go step by step from there.

    • Hi Francis. Thanks for the feedback. Right from the start I was making sure the solve was simple and focused on on landmarks or the landscape, so I’d be interested to know which parts of it you think are too complex?

      • This part – Have you noticed the red magnetic declination lines on the map provided in Where Warm Waters Halt? I find them odd because they’re a bit ugly, and many versions of the map have removed them for aesthetic reasons. But what are they for? It’s not normal to have these lines on a simple schematic map like this. Magnetic declination is used when you’re using a compass bearing – the lines tell you what the correction is between true north and magnetic north is at a particular spot. The presence of the magnetic declination lines is telling me that you need to use some sort of compass reading, or at least a general bearing to some remote feature in your solve.

        Fenn said you just need a map, the clues are basically there in the poem otherwise. I don’t think magnetic true north or standard north is significant. It could be, but I keep getting the feeling Forest is keeping it simple. Maybe so simple that the clues become obvious once one figures them out.

        Fenn says a simple child might find it. Now, if that is not a clear indication of how to approach the poem, I don’t know what is. I’m not saying I am all that clear about the answers to the clues, but I find it maybe too easy to let our imaginations run wild with all the many possible interpretations of the clues. Many interpretations are not literal ones.

        Another thing I suspect, but who knows? Is that the first clue, once one is solid on that, one will eventually find the treasure. Somewhere I read that Fenn stated something like that. That one had to be solid on the first clue, not just think one is solid on it. Then, once you know where to start, you can eventually solve it.

        Fenn is a natural detective, a naturally sound business man. That’s how he became so competent as gallery owner-collector without formal training in art history or design.

        Fenn wants some poor cracker from some state like Texas to find it, indicating that someone like that will make only literal interpretations of his clues. So, my feeling is the clues have to be obvious, straight forward. So, warm waters halt, for example probably doesn’t mean a warm stream ending in another stream. That’s too vague. Whatever it is comes to a literal stop.

        I have not studied this story all that much yet, Pondered it, but not gotten a lot of maps out. I just look at the general area of four states and pick a landmark area like the Four Corners, the ancient pueblo areas, looking for natural features like hot springs, of which there are many through all four state areas, water falls, canyons, etc.

        I have a hunch when talk of treasures new and old, it could be human, ancient and contemporary. But it’s not obvious enough.

        I also feel that it’s too obvious to be looking along the Yellowstone area in either Montana, where Fenn spent so much of his childhood growing up, or Wyoming. But that too would be a literal interpretation. But why add two more states? Everyone and his uncle seems to be looking more in the Yellowstone area than anywhere else.

        It also sounds like Fenn is saying, the clues are all in the poem, as if to say, though you need a map once you are solid on where to start, at least for the initial clue, you don’t need a map. I may not be accurate on that score, but again, it’s something to consider with the perspective on literal interpretation.

        • Just the part I mentioned and where to search. I am guessing it’s not in the Yellowstone area. That part seems too obvious. But it might be. He did say that he knew exactly where he wanted to put the treasure once he decided he wanted to do this. But it could just as easily be some obvious land mark area.

          Fenn thought of it in 2008 during the stock market crash and placed the treasure in 2010. You may recall that Brown’s Canyon Colorado became a national park during the Obama Administration. Fenn likely would have known about that. He has stated at the time of economic disparity he wanted to place that treasure for, hopefully someone who was poor and needed the money. Not his exact words, but he indicated that.

          The problem with Brown’s Canyon is it’s a big area. How that would work with canyon down to home of Brown, doesn’t make sense, but the event might be significant.

          • I looked up the basic landmarks that might be in one place when I was watching the movie True Grit. Much of the location scenes were filmed in Colorado, especially near the end of the movie.

            There is that spectacular shooting scene near Chimney Rock Mountain Colorado. It has Canyon, hot spring, waterfall and ancient Chaco pueblo ruins all in the same place. I’m not sure how ancient dwelling sites might fit into the clues, so not sure they have anything to do with it. There is nothing obvious about it in the poem.

            But as an archaeologist site, it’s a kind of old treasure.

  17. Nice Rocklicker! Pity you didn’t find it mate! I am from Perth as well, heading out in September. May have to catchup for a beer.

    • Oh cool, I’m glad I’m not the only person crazy enough to search from this side of the world! Drop me an email at my username and we’ll arrange something. It’ll have to be in the next couple of weeks though as I’m leaving Perth at the end of the month. If anyone else in Perth is interested then drop me an email and we’ll start a support group at a pub in the city 🙂

  18. I’m glad you pu had a nice time and with your search. My first search was with my sons and one son found a shed (elk horn) that was over 5 ft. Back to you… great adventures are always remembered. Double thumbs up

  19. Rocklicker—

    Thanks for sharing with us! Nice pics and very nice “solve”. Those aren’t bear tracks though, that’s Sasquatch for sure. Do you have any blurry photos of Sasquatch you can share? I have a blurry photos of Sasquatch collection that I would like to add to is why I’m asking.

    I’m glad you had a good time searching though! Do you ever plan to come back again?

    • Sure treasure hunting is odd, but sasquatch hunting is a whole new level of crazy!

      Definitely not coming back, unless someone buys me some flights then I’ll happily carry their bags for them.

  20. Thanks for sharing, Rocklicker! You’re solve included some good logical thinking combined with some imaginative ideas, and it was very well-written. I particularly liked your idea about the compass/magnetic declinations being factored into the mix.

    I’m curious how you ended up at Yankee Jim Lake from following Sphinx Creek. It appears that following Sphinx Creek will deposit you at a pass to the west of Yankee Jim Lake just north of the source of Cottonwood Creek. What made you focus on Yankee Jim Lake in particular over the other nearby Green or Twin Lakes? It appears that following an unnamed branch of Sphinx Creek leads directly to the Twin Lakes in particular.

    • Thanks Blex.
      That’s a fair question, and I did consider those other options but couldn’t make anything work with them. To me Yankee Jim Lake was the obvious “water high” in the area, and you had to be up the top of that hill to see what I thought was the blaze.

  21. Great read. Very exciting, too, with the bear tracks! Keep in mind ff said TC is not at the top of a mountain, but may be near the top—sorry on phone, can’t give ref, but it’s out there. Maybe if someone goes back to check this out they can look down the slope s but more.

    Just did Tom Miner Basin last evening—whoa, gorgeous, no one there. Will post about it when I get home. Area so lovely with all this green. Got a permit from USFS ranger station in Gardiner & picked up a few pieces of petrified wood! That was my treasure.

  22. RockLicker….great handle and solution. Two things stand out; the map in TFTW and the obviously out of place magnetic declination lines (I use those also) and your thoughts on the blaze. IMO, the blaze will be revealed when you are in the correct spot. Look up!! And then you did a great job looking quickly down. There are at least 10 billion of ’em… blazes and stars in the sky…and a few of those “blazes” may have corresponding place names. Nice work.

  23. RL,
    That looked like a lot of fun! Glad you didn’t find the owner of that print. Looks like I’m going to have to cross Yankee Jim Canyon of my Montana search list. A lot of bright people have looked up that way. No dice. Probably get back to armchair searching The Madison.

  24. Rock – I walked up that trail in my search but was drawn to the Sphinx feature. You could read about it in my adventures on this blog… if you’re patient enough…. I may have been a little long winded! I wouln’t qualify that area as remote…but I think it is further out that Forrest traveled to the hide. Also why begin it in Gardiner? I believe all the points that are associated to clues must have some intrinsic purpose in the solution. If it were just directions the clues would describe the most direct route to the destination.

  25. Did you look in the wood burning stove? Curious… I know Fenn says it is not associated with a structure. But I am just wondering?

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